The news of USF1’s first driver has certainly created a stir in the media as well as the blogging community. Jose Maria Lopez, the Argentinian driver, has been named as USF1’s first official driver and the event was endorsed by the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
But who is Lopez? Who were his idols? What are his chances at USF1? Let’s start with a brief bio shall we?
JosÃ© MarÃa “Pechito” LÃ³pez (born April 26, 1983 in RÃo Tercero, Argentina) raced in the 2006 GP2 Series for the Super Nova team. Prior to that he raced for the DAMS and CMS teams in Formula 3000. He was also a Renault F1 test driver in 2006 and part of their driver development program from 2004-2006.
It has been said that former F1 driver and fellow Argentinian Carlos Reutemann was pivotal in helping Lopez secure the sponsorship he needed to gain the ride at USF1. While that may be true, team boss Peter Windsor has expressed confidence in his selection and praise for Lopez’s talent behind the wheel stating on the team website:
“Securing ‘Pechito’ Lopez for our debut season has been a goal of ours for a long time,” said US F1 Team Executive Vice President Peter Windsor. “We’ve been following his career since he dominated the Renault V6 Championship in 2003 and we’re thrilled to have him on board as we return America to Formula One. Lopez is a consummate professional and born leader. The most revealing thing about his character was how he handled the disappointment of not racing for Renault after three years of testing with them in F1. Instead of moping around and feeling sorry for himself, he returned to Argentina and totally dominated the local scene, winning 38 races and three championships. He became a major star as a result and, in turn, the Argentine nation â€“ a country where F1 is second only to soccer – has got behind him.”
It seems Lopez got close to the F1 inner sanctum when at Renault but unfortunately ended up packing his bags for home. Lopez sat down with Rex Gowar at Reuters for a brief interview about his idols.
“As a kid I always tried to imitate people who have stood out,” Lopez told Reuters in an interview at the Argentine Automobile Club.
“Fangio was one of the best … I was always impressed by the way he talked and expressed himself, you could see he was different, someone who marked an epoch in F1.”
“Then came the era of Senna, who was very close to us (Argentines) as a Brazilian, South American, with a very similar way of being to ours here,” the 26-year-old said.
“Schumacher marked the last era … You pick up a bit of everything you see in those drivers,”
No surprise that his idols were three of F1’s racing legends and one of them being the great Juan Manual Fangio of Argentina. Unlike those past champions, Lopez faces a daunting task of piloting a brand new car in a brand new team.
What are his chances? It really comes down to the car. Lopez has shown he has pace in other series and it remains to be seen how he will do in a modern F1 car although his stint at Renault would have afforded him some insight to the car and process. Remaining a tidy, efficient driver will be something USF1 will be keen to have as they continue to develop the car on a limited budget.
“It’s difficult to set objectives because there are many new things, new driver, new team starting from zero. We must be patient and have confidence in the people working (on the car). Today, the objective is to be ahead of the new teams,” he said.
“The car should be ready between the 20th and 25th of February and then we’re going to test drive it in Alabama,”
I have shared my opinion on the issue here and SJ Skid has opted to discuss the finer details of USF1’s gambit here. Tell us what you think of Lopez, the team, the choice and the chances for this young Argentinian who has been given a second look at a world unattainable by so many drivers.